Using Software to Track and Prevent Microcephaly from Zika Virus

Biologics Discovery

zikaMosquitos are only one source of the spread of Zika virus. Through more thorough investigation new means of transmission andits role in microcephaly are being revealed. Image Source: Flickr User: jentavery

Over the summer, there was a lot of buzz about Zika virus, which appeared to be causing microcephaly in babies born to infected and recently affected mothers. Investigators on the ground in Brazil  suspected that there was more at play than the virus itself. Specifically, herpes-simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) has been implicated in increasing placental sensitivity to Zika virus conferring a higher rate of microcephaly in the children born to those affected.1 Sophisticated software can help researchers identify illnesses which have a comorbidity with Zika and allow for researchers to better track transmission to create better vaccines and treatments.  

Better Assessing Transmission

The Zika virus is nothing new. There was an outbreak on Yap Island in 2007, which appeared to run it’s course and disappear entirely. Unfortunately, due to lack of adequate computer tracking software, researchers were unable to garner all possible data from this type of infection and to accurately document and stratify the effects on the full population of patients between regions. Investigators can now look back and wonder if there were stones left unturned. It now appears that Zika may linger asymptomatically in unexpected fluids and tissues in its hosts, such as saliva, breast-milk, urine, semen and blood.

In a recent case study,2 the virus was detected via RT-PCR results in a number of different fluids from the body, including cervical mucus, endocervical swab, and a general genital swab. In this particular case, the 27-year-old woman was symptomatic upon coming in for study, Zika in her blood. As she progressed through the illness it disappeared from her blood, but remained present within the cervical mucus. With all of the concerns regarding microcephaly and loss of pregnancy, it was unsurprising to see that it had crossed the placental barrier into the amniotic fluid of infected mothers.

Moving forward, it is of the utmost importance that a full array of samples is collected and analyzed correctly. This is still a poorly understood illness that causes a number of known issues, and there are likely many yet to be discovered. By using innovative lab software that functions as a standardized, common interface between labs and facilities, it will be easier for researchers to work together to analyze data, look for common trends, and move towards making more effective vaccines and treatments for Zika.

Crossing the Placental Barrier

The placenta is supposed to be an immunological and mechanical barrier to outside threats to embryonic and fetal development, in a similar manner to that of the blood brain barrier; unfortunately, it is not as effective and somehow Zika is able to traverse its defences. As aforementioned, Zika has been conclusively linked with microcephaly in many of the cases documented in Brazil and throughout South America. Currently, there are a number of investigations being conducted into how this illness is being transmitted to the unborn child and affecting cranial development:

  • Placental sensitivity to Zika increases in women who test positive for HSV-2. HSV-2 increases the expression of receptors that allow Zika virus to cross the placental barrier. This provides a new therapeutic target upon which biologic therapeutics, may be tailored to. Antibodies may be better modelled and modified using advanced lab software to target and decrease expression of these particular receptors.
  • A pre-existing Zika virus infection at the time of conception/embryonic growth, may interfere with placental formation and function.
  • Zika infected neuronal crest cells appear to play a major development of microcephaly. The neural crest cells are responsible for the bones and cartilage of the skull and that infection of cranial neural crest cells does not necessarily lead to cell death, whereas it appears that the virus kills the bulk of neural progenitor cells. In neuronal crest cells, there’s a change in signaling molecules leading to the formation of new neural cells. This appears to induce premature differentiation, migration, and death of human neural progenitors.3  By identifying and using lab software to analyze the proteomic population of these signalling pathways, researchers are being provided with a better understanding of this process and new ways to target, and stop, this process.

Although research is still in preliminary stages, it’s becoming apparent that there are a number of different ways to approach the prevention of this microcephaly. Ideally, researchers will be able to use advanced software to better analyze and track the pathogenicity of Zika-induced microcephaly and stop it in it’s tracks. Through better understanding, new therapeutic targets will become apparent and many different types of therapeutics can be formed. BIOVIA Biologics Discovery fills that technological need. It is a common platform with capabilities that can move a therapeutic from pre-bench development to clinical trials. With predictive analytics, antibody modelling, workflow and data management, this technology is what is needed to move these projects forward. Its capabilities in pre- and post-discovery modelling save investigators time and R&D dollars. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab

  1.  ”Research provides clues to how Zika virus breaches the placental barrier,” September 15, 2016, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160915085715.html
  2.  “Zika virus in the female genital tract,” September 2016, http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/laninf/PIIS1473-3099(16)30193-1.pdf
  3. “Zika Virus Infection Induces Cranial Neural Crest Cells to Produce Cytokines at Levels Detrimental for Neurogenesis,” September 29, 2016, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1931312816303833